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Going 360: Improving literacy begins with giving a child a book

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Posted at 2:36 PM, Sep 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-07 11:12:48-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Many children across the Kansas City metropolitan region are not reading at their grade level. To help improve reading skills, KSHB 41 and the Scripps Howard Foundation are collecting donations for our “If You Give a Child a Book…” campaign.

Now, KSHB is taking the topic 360, speaking with:

  • A fourth grade student
  • The student’s parents
  • A reading mentor
  • The executive director of Lead to Read KC.

Student

Geremiah Jackson loves to read. He reads at home, in school and everywhere in between.

“After school, I go to my room and read a book,” he said.

It’s critical Geremiah reads on grade level, because in fourth grade, his school curriculum begins to heavily emphasize literacy.

Many studies show that, if students are not reading at their grade level by the time they enter fourth grade, they’re four times more likely to drop out of high school. And, in some of the highest need schools across Kansas City, less than 25% of third graders read at the appropriate level.

“[Reading] helps you get an education, and it helps you learn more words,” Geremiah said.

One of the reasons he loves reading is because his school, Primitivo Garcia Elementary School in Kansas City, Missouri, participates in Lead to Read KC’s reading mentors program. Last school year, Geremiah read with his mentor Jacob Schwartz once a week.

Geremiah has no plans of slowing down, either. At back-to-school night, he grabbed as many books as he could hold.

Parents

Geremiah’s parents first noticed how much their son loved to read when he pointed out every street sign while riding in the car.

“He kept saying, ‘Daddy, I can tell you what that sign says.’ Just driving, he was like, ‘I can tell you what that says.’ I was like, 'OK I think he likes reading,'” Alton Jackson recalled.

His mother admitted Geremiah’s grades on spelling tests were lower than she’d like during virtual learning. But she noticed a huge improvement once he got back into the school building and linked with a reading mentor.

“They did the Lead to Read KC program, and he went from here to here, real quick,” Teauizje Shelton said, raising her arm from low to high to show his progress.

Now Jackson plans to turn Geremiah’s closet at home into a cozy reading nook with a bookcase, beanbag and light.

“He always wanted to read, o with him wanting to do it made it even better for him to progress,” Jackson added.

Reading Mentor

Jacob Schwartz loves reading, too.

“I love that reading opens up the world to you,” the father of two said.

Several years ago, he began volunteering with Lead to Read KC as a reading mentor. The commitment means he spent 30 minutes once a week, reading with a student at school. Lead to Read KC coordinates mentors so every student in its participating schools have a buddy to read with during lunchtime.

“There’s something about being in a room, or a space, with a bunch of other mentors and a bunch of other kids who are all enjoying it. You can feel that energy,” Schwartz said.

Seeing a student like Geremiah progress reminds Schwartz why he volunteers with the literacy group.

“Once they cross a threshold and they can read to themselves and it’s not a frustrating experience, it’s a whole new world,” he said.

Lead to Read KC

As the executive director of Lead to Read KC, Pauly Hart has to be nimble.

During its 11 years, the nonprofit has evolved to better serve children in the Kansas City area. Some of the group's biggest obstacles came after the pandemic, when remote learning significantly reduced students' reading levels. Many children are still recovering from the COVID-related setbacks.

This year, the nonprofit is working with first, second and third-grade students at 24 schools. While most of the schools are in Jackson County, Missouri, the organization seeks to expand and has recently partnered with a school in Wyandotte County, Kansas.

“It’s never ever too early to start reading with your child,” Hart said.

The group is now offering virtual, one-on-one tutoring sessions at eight schools. Lead to Read KC has also partnered with four local authors to teach students mental health strategies through reading.

The nonprofit launched its “Reading is Everywhere” campaign during the pandemic, placing blue baskets full of books all over town, especially in places where you might not expect to find them. Families can take the books home for free. Soon, the organization will launch its “Feed the Need to Read” program and distributes free books to food pantries.

“We need all-hands-on-deck to help these kids recover the learning loss and fill in the learning gaps,” Hart said.

Hart is actively recruiting reading mentors, and she hopes to get 500 more mentors in schools this year.

“When caring adults come in and read with kids, eyes and hearts are opened,” Hart said.

To apply to become a mentor, visit Lead to Read KC’s website.

“If You Give a Child a Book…” campaign
The Scripps Howard Foundation is collecting money until Friday, Sept. 9, 2022 for its campaign. The foundation will partner with Scholastic Books to purchase brand new books to give to students at JA Rogers Elementary and Lindbergh Elementary. You can donate by visiting the fundraiser’s website.

As part of KSHB 41 News' commitment to providing context and depth in our reporting, we've excited to share our latest project, which we're calling 360. This project takes stories and topics that our communities are talking about and explores different perspectives on the issue. You can be a part of the process by e-mailing your ideas and thoughts to us at 360@kshb.com.